Arriving in Dubai and The Atlantis on the Palm
It's only a short flight from Jeddah across Saudi to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, just over 2 hours, but Saudia Airlines managed to fit in a full on gourmet meal, newspapers and tea and coffee. Their in flight entertainment was also very comprehensive with a touch screen to scroll through what seemed like thousands of categories each with a plethora of multicultural choices.
Being the inquisitive soul I am I went straight for the most unusual (obviously not here) category, Islam... Inside was about 50 films to watch, some of them in Arabic, some in Arabic with subtitles and some that were English speaking. I clicked through and started to watch a couple of the English ones. They all took on the same format, interviewing Western people who had converted to Islam, moved to Saudi or Qatar or another Gulf state and started living their lives with the Qua'ran at the heart of the family.
The films gave some impressive facts about the good Muslims do throughout the world. I learnt about the Hajj, a once in a lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia where a number of rituals are performed including spending 24 hours out in the desert as well as walking around, between and under religious landmarks. Some 3 million people are expected in the city over just a couple of weeks each year. Most interestingly of all is a pillar of Islam called Zakat.
From what I could gather Zakat is a sort of moral obligation to other Muslims. Should their financial situation permit, people who follow Islam have to donate a portion of their wealth to charitable causes. My Dad had experienced this living in Jeddah. He is friends with a Philippino woman who also lives on his compound. She has a modest wage working as a hotel chamber maid, however, she still finds enough money to contribute towards a young boy's education.
The total monetry value given to charitable causes from Muslims following Zakat all around the world is reported to be 15 times that of similar contributions made by governmental organisations. 15 times!
All of the videos took on the same tact towards the end... that guy in the middle of town screaming about the importance of this religion or that religion and that you should condemn your sins and follow this book or that book. I soon turned the TV over to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles...
Mid way through the flight I noticed a lot less of the ladies were wearing abaya's (The compulsory dress for women in public throughout the more strict Muslim lands) and instead were coming out of the toilet dripping in diamonds, wearing high class fashion and smelling divine every time they walked past me. Whilst Dubai and the United Arab Emirates is a Muslim state, there is a lot more lenience in upholding the customs. The abaya seems an oppressive dress code to me, but underneath, Arabic women really are beautiful.
We landed at the airport and was greeted by a Mercedes Limousine with enough electronics in it to go to space. If you could move it, it had a button to do it for you, window blinds, separate sun roofs, chilled cup holders with complimentary water. Every crevice in the door cards had a thin line of blue LEDs that stretched out to the foot wells. To adjust my seat I had no less than 8 different axis points to tweak so I was as comfy as comfy can be. I noticed a small orange triangle in the wing mirrors, but only at certain times. I asked the driver and he showed me, if he was in the right hand lane of the 6 lane motorway we were on and indicated left to change lane but there was a car in his blind spot it lit up the triangle. Then he asked me to put my hand on the steering wheel and as he started to turn, with the car still in the blind spot, the steering wheel vibrated to further tell him he was about to cave in a bright yellow Lamborghini. I drive a Ford Transit most of the time... I've put LEDs in that flash multicolours until you start to spin out or get a headache.
Our destination was even more lavish than this car. It took around 40 minutes driving parallel to the coast through downtown Dubai. Every building seemed to have at least 20 floors, and they were the small ones. It was all too much to take in really as the driver and my Dad were pointing out places of importance. I was transfixed by the funny shape the sat nav was telling us to drive on to. The Palm.
The Palm is a totally man made land mass jutting out in to the Gulf sea on the Dubai coast. Dubai's fairly recent push to grab tourists, and the money they bring, is for a very good reason. Once rich in oil reserves that made Dubai what it is today, an oasis of wealth and pleasure in an arid desert, oil only accounts for 7% of the countries GDP today compared to over 80% 20 years ago. The booming tourism industry has stepped in and taken up the mantle of the oil fields.
But tourists like beaches, and Dubai only had a modest 72 km of coast line. So the simple answer was to build more coast, out at sea. The construction takes advantage of the shape of a palm tree which adds an incredible amount of coast line compared to any other shape. And so it was set about, to build another 56 km of coast line in the shape of a palm tree. There is a very interesting documentary on Youtube you can check out here. It basically means battling mother nature for the rest of eternity as it tries to erode it away. And the Arabs have more plans for palm, earth and claw shaped manmade coastline islands that will give a total of over 1500 km of coastline!
So the Atlantis on the Palm, the shining jewel sitting 5 miles out to sea at the very top of the Palm is a hotel that's 2 km long, has 20 restaurants, 2000 odd rooms and 4000 members of staff. The aquarium puts the great barrier reef, let alone the Sea Life Centre, to shame. I have never experienced (and bet I never will) a more lavish place in my life. As we pulled in to the covered driveway each door was opened by a member of the concierge waiting patiently. We were welcomed in to the entrance lobby that plays host to a 15 metre high sculpture made out of individual pieces of Molino glass. We were ushered in to private concierge room to check in where the kind far eastern looking woman basically told us you can have whatever you want, just pick up the phone in your room, helicopter rides, boats to the Gold markets, jet skis and rental, by the hour or the day, of any of the 6 supercars parked prominently out the front.
I was completely gobsmacked. It was a barrage to the senses. The opulence of the place, the people, everything. A middle eastern toilet attendant even handed me my personal towel to dry my hands after having a piss. Dad mentioned that he wasn't just in the toilet to hand out towels. You really can get whatever you want here... Whatever floats your boat!
We were shown to our room, which is used in the loosest possible way, as this place was not a hotel room but a full executive suite with all amenities. The bathroom was something to write home about (haha get it?) and had a massive roll top jacuzzi bath in the middle of the room straddled by his and hers sink areas all clad in bright marble. The living space in my van was dwarfed by this bathroom alone!
The view from the balcony was epic. Sat at the top most part of the Palm looking back towards the skyline of Dubai. And it was a comfortable 26 degrees in November.
We were told that we had access to the executive lounge where we would find soft drinks, teas and coffees as well as a range of alcoholic beverages. Well as soon as we were settled in we headed straight for the lounge and enjoyed unlimited mojitos, sex on the beaches, numerous whiskeys, beers and an array of bits to eat including sushi, smoked salmon entrées, onion bhajis, and exotic salad bowls. Then I spotted a mysterious wooden case sat on the side like something out of Jumanji. The cigar box! Containing 10 or so different cigars of all sizes. How tempting! But I was with my Dad and stuck with a couple of packs of Marlboroughs.
At first I didn't know how to conduct myself. When I fly I try and just have hand luggage. I've managed to get it down to an art. One 20l rucksack from Tescos can fit enough for me to survive comfortably for an indefinite amount of time, as long as the climate doesn't change dramatically and I can wash my clothes somehow. So I'm stood in a hotel where every door is opened for you, the people walking around look like bronzed James Bonds and Miss Moneypennies and you can spend £3,000 on a cigar from a Jumanji box. All whilst I'm wearing my best 5 year old chequed F & F short sleeved shirt and a pair of stained khaki shorts with more holes than a bowling ball. And I'm so appreciative of everything. I thank the guy who calls us the lift profusely even though all he did was hit the button. I thank the Indian guys who clean our room every day. I've been him, I've cleaned toothpaste off of a guests mirror every day, I've scrubbed the toilets clean only to come back 20 minutes later to find soggy loo roll all over the floor. But no one else does. Everyone holds themselves with an air of … I don't know... arrogance? Sophistication? Suave? It's difficult for me to tell... I say my thank you's anyway.